by Gary Beach

How the Right Tech Plans Can Lead to Better Customer Service

Aug 31, 20113 mins
CRM SystemsDatabase AdministrationSocial Networking Apps

Keep your average customer in mind when developing the products they must interact with, recommends CIO magazine publisher emeritus Gary Beach.

Isn’t it grand when things work? And isn’t it frustrating when they don’t? I recently lost my password for an application at work. I sent a “forgot password” message to the department that built the application and promptly received a temporary password. The password-reset page looked well designed but seemed out of touch with its users. Why? The first question it asked me was to put in my old password.

“Hello, I forgot my old password! That’s why I’m on this page,” I felt like screaming at my monitor, but then a coworker told me that my old password was really the temporary password the system gave me. Then everything worked and I set a new password.

Social media is another area that, for many companies, is not working as planned. Paul Gillin, a social media consultant, suggests one reason why: Sales, marketing and human resource departments are usually in charge. To make social media iterations work better, Gillin suggests you instead put the people who make the products you sell in charge of managing social media. He tells the story of how one Midwestern manufacturing firm put product engineers in charge of social media and saw improved results. Why? Because customers want to speak with employees at your firm who build your products, not those who market or sell them.

Customer affinity programs are another area that could stand a usability overhaul. Are your affinity plans fostering deeper engagements with customers, or are they driving your clients to your competitors? Airline affinity plans, for example, seem particularly misguided. I recently traveled on a merged airline where I boarded in the last group behind the endless affinity classes of the two merged carriers. Even though I have 500,000 miles with one of the carriers, I now make it my goal to avoid this airline when I plan my business trips.

IDG, the parent company of CIO’s publisher, made millions in the 1990s by capitalizing on something that doesn’t work well: product manuals. The “For Dummies” series was built on the premise that product manuals are too complex. While IDG no longer publishes the series, its premise remains true: Product manuals are too complex; you shouldn’t need an engineering degree to decipher them. A picture is worth a thousand words, and technologies like data visualization can make your manuals work better.

How are things working for you? Tweet your stories to @gbeach.

Gary Beach is the publisher emeritus of CIO magazine. Email him at